Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Hattie Morahan, Nathan Mack
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 mins
Rating: PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: The Walt Disney Company
Opening Day: 16 March 2017
Synopsis: The story and characters audiences know and love come to spectacular life in the live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic “Beauty and the Beast,” a stunning, cinematic event celebrating one of the most beloved tales ever told. “Beauty and the Beast” is the fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a Beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart of the true Prince within.
Given that the original animated version of Beauty and the Beast was so much beloved by Disney fans, it is inevitable that audiences will ask “how different can the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast be?” The answer comes to you about after two musical numbers when you realise that the live action version is every bit as animated as the original. Yet somehow, it is less lifelike and heartwarming than the original even as it attempts to update itself to be more relevant to today’s social mores without veering too far away from the original storyline.
In this updated version, Belle bravely takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. While this Belle is still a bookworm, her hobby is a sort of a resistance against the social mores of her poor provincial town where the anti-female literacy is strong and she has to get her books from a chapel (as opposed to openly from a bookstore in the animated version). Her father is an artist instead of an inventor and Belle is actually the one who attempts to sort of invent a washing machine with a rolling pail and a horse.
In an attempt to play down the Stockholm syndrome aspect of Belle and Beast’s budding romance, the Beast is revealed to be a bit of a bookworm, making him a little less beastly. It is also clear that this is an attempt to make the romance between the two a little bit more believable as they bond over Shakespeare. The screenwriters also further attempt to increase the realism of their romance through providing emotional links between Belle and her Beast involving their mutual absent mothers. Such attempts, while valiant, really doesn’t add much substance nor play down the whole Stockholm syndromeness of this relationship.
And that gay moment that has generated so much buzz? It appears near the conclusion as Gaston’s buddy or sidekick, who clearly has a huge unrequited crush, dances with a male partner fleetingly. Not really an important or earthshattering moment reflective of today’s social mores.
The updates feel token and it is really the familiar costumes, scenery and songs that you will enjoy. The new songs are not memorable either despite being composed by the talented Alan Menken with lyrics penned by Tim Rice of The Lion King fame. Perhaps it would have been better for Disney to stick to retaining more of that familiarity than introduce half-hearted updates that really don’t value-add.
Even the cast seem quite not into the story, particularly the non-CGI ones (with the exception of Josh Gad and Luke Evans portraying LeFou and Gaston with great fun). Emma Watson is breathtakingly beautiful as Belle and very much lives up to that name. However, her performance is one that is mainly a series of furrowed eyebrows and pretty poses. Although she does look the part, that is not quite sufficient in getting you to root for her.
Instead, it is the CGI-animated pots, pans, candles and other pieces of household furniture and décor, voiced by incredibly talented actors, who draw you in. They do an amazing job with the song “Be Our Guest” which was pulled off with much aplomb by a utensils cabaret of sorts. This song manages to revive the magic of the original movie with its exuberance and nuttiness without feeling like a mere copycat.
And in the new Beauty and the Beast’s half-hearted attempt to be more than a mere imitation of the original yet wanting to retain the magical feel of it, this version ends up not quite able to stand on its own yet not quite a good imitation of the animated version. Although still entertaining and watchable (thanks to the beautiful CGI effects), it has its moments of awkwardness and that fails to transport you into that magical kingdom and universe where you could believe a beautiful girl could genuinely fall for and soften the heart of a beast (without evoking thoughts of Stockholm syndrome).
(An entertaining movie that is safe enough for the family (that gay moment is really quite discreet) but just don’t expect it to be as magical as the original version)
Review by Katrina Tee